Janey's Reviews > Ethan Frome

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
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Mar 20, 2009

liked it
bookshelves: read-2009
Read in March, 2009 , read count: 2

Hated, HATED reading this in high school. Upon a re-read a decade later: I don't hate it anymore, but the story, being domestic misery itself -- misery: unattractive, mundane, and absolutely suffocating -- is no walk in the freaking park. I'll concede that Ch. 8's conclusion is pretty stunning in laying out in a few sentences the hopelessness of Ethan's situation, and the ending has a similar effect. The wintry atmosphere is extremely well-done, and from the many over-the-top metaphors (but what doesn't seem too-much in this setting?) I'll say I like this bit quite a lot:

"He drew up to the table again and she sewed on in silence, with dropped lashes, while he sat in fascinated contemplation of the way in which her hands went up and down above the strip of stuff, just as he had seen a pair of birds make short perpendicular flights over a nest they were building" (79).

[Silly Note: But, oh my god, pet peeve alert. Excessive use of ellipses, man. It's like voiceover or slow-motion in cinema: the device is melodramatic in itself, and can easily detract/distract from the text if not used properly, whoosh, damage done. A period will probably suffice 99.9% of the time, thanks. Ugh. When Rowling does it for effect, I can snort, roll my eyes and move on, but Edith Wharton, I'm disappointed in you!]

Addendum 4/2: Changed rating. This is actually way more interesting than I first thought, in terms of structure, narrative POV, literary context (thanks university class, ahem).
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Reading Progress

03/22/2009 page 9
4.33% "Am attempting to ignore Martin Q. Blank's snarking as I read."
03/23/2009 page 144
69.23% "Unrelenting. Jesus."

Comments (showing 1-9)

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message 9: by Robin (new)

Robin I haven't been a big fan of anything of Edith Wharton. I downright hated The Age of Innocence.

Janey Robin wrote: "I haven't been a big fan of anything of Edith Wharton. I downright hated The Age of Innocence."

I remember reading House of Mirth and Age of Innocence and enjoying them -- but I can't remember them very well.

message 7: by Janey (last edited Apr 02, 2009 09:46PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Janey I just came back from a class discussion on this book that was so illuminating that I felt it necessary to change my rating! In terms of craft (structure, narrative POV and its implications), this is actually a super interesting book. If you ever read it again, let me know, would love to compare notes.

message 6: by Robin (new)

Robin Re-reading is not likely, for me! :)

message 5: by Robin (new)

Robin But more likely than re-reading The Age of Innocence. :)

message 4: by Kat (new) - rated it 1 star

Kat Ergh - for me, the craft of a book can be fascinating...BUT it is still not enough for me to like it, if I disagree with the basic worldview/moral espoused by the story. This book had such a bleak message that I wanted to slit my wrists, which damns it for me whether it is an amazing writing experiment or not. Speaking of craft, though - have you ever read any works that are experimental in form? I got really angry about Italo Calvino, but I am still interested in trying House of Leaves or any Nicholson Baker.

message 3: by Janey (last edited Apr 03, 2009 06:56PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Janey Robin- Hm, now I'll really have to revisit Age of Innocence. I found it way more immediately appealing to me than Ethan Frome, which I had like a visceral hatred for the first time I read it. What didn't you like about it?

Kat- I'm going to try really hard to call you that, as that is what you go by now! ;) I'm conflicted on how to rate these books, it depends on my mood. On one hand I want to rate it based only on how much I liked it, but that might mean giving ratings to books just really crappily written books (not nec. to the point of total unpleasantness, but, just books that I don't think deserve more than 2 stars, like H. Potter). On the other hand, rating books based on critical worth can also be weird. I still don't precisely enjoy E. Frome, but am (now) totally interested in re-reading it as a critical exercise.

But, I still can't bring myself to rate H.P. 1 star (I hope I didn't, hmmm), and can't bring myself to rate E.F. 4 stars.

(I want to be able to give 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 stars. I have a similar issue w/ Netflix too.)

Re E.F.-- was it the fate of Ethan that drove you nuts?

As far as experimental novels-- haven't really encountered hardly any. Though I have read Baker (actually, several books by Baker, now that I think of it -- he's also on my to-re-read list -- I don't know what to make of him i.e. specifically, the point of two of his pornographic novels for one, I think they are Vox --phone sex conversation-- and Fermata --I think, that was where a dude found out he could be invisible or something and acted out all sorts of taboo sex fantasies-- I could be mixing this one with another pornographic novel Baker wrote. It seemed almost deliberately NON-titillating I think. Again, I'll have to re-read. The other books, a memoir-sort-of about his intense obsession with one Mr. Updike --what drew me to Baker in the first place!!--, the children's novel, and a quite lovely book about mundane domestic things in relation to his newborn child I remember really enjoying --- something about his command of detail).

I bought House of Leaves. Tried to read it. It was HARD. I haven't been able to get past the initial 20 pgs. A classmate of mine got through it, but he said it took him 6 months of focused reading; I need to pick his brain further on how he approached it quite frankly because I am stumped.

Haven't tried Calvino -- what sorts of things does he write, and what don't you like about him?

message 2: by Robin (new)

Robin I don't remember it much, except disliking it intensely. I read it on my own, aside from school. I remember not liking the ending. Now maybe I need to re-read to remember why I think of it as one of my least favorite books ever. :)

Marc um, don't you find a bit of camp pleasant in a gothic novella?

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